Annual exams and regular monitoring of vitals go a long way toward healthy living.

Learn the significance of maintaining a healthy blood pressure.

Checking your blood pressure is simple. Yet what it tells you can change your life. Knowing your numbers can be empowering; they provide information that can help prevent major health problems.

Blood pressure (BP) is a measure of the force exerted against the walls of arteries as the heart contracts. The peak number is the pressure during the heart contraction and is known as systolic BP. The lower number, diastolic BP, is the minimum BP during the heart cycle, occurring as the heart relaxes and refills with blood before it again contracts.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the optimal systolic number is less than 120 mmHg and the diastolic number less than 80 mmHg. Diagnosis of high blood pressure (HBP, also known as hypertension) is made when BP is consistently greater than 140/90. For people who have HBP, improving their lifestyle and using antihypertensive medication to lower BP can prevent damage.

The power of blood pressure                                                                    

HBP is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When BP is high, the blood running through arteries flows with too much force. The arteries aren’t equipped for that force, so as a result, they stretch beyond their limits. This causes small tears that our bodies try to repair with scar tissue. Unfortunately, that scar tissue is fertile ground for plaque buildup, which results in blockages, blood clots and damaged arteries.

Sustained HBP often does its damage silently in our bodies. We tend not to feel it. BP needs to be maintained at optimal levels to prevent damage to arteries. If you do not know your numbers, the diagnosis of HBP might not be made until after you suffer a heart attack or stroke.

About 80 million Americans have HBP. While about 75 percent of people with hypertension are being treated, only about half of those being treated have their numbers under control. So even for those under the care of a doctor and on medications for HBP, it is critical that you know your numbers and confirm that your BP is being treated to goal. The risk of HBP increases as we age. HBP can strike anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, weight or fitness level.

Why should you care?

HBP’s potential for serious damage should not be ignored. People often do not know damage is occurring because they do not know they have hypertension.

Other people discover that their BP numbers are high, but they feel no symptoms, so they do not think it is dangerous. And still others are being treated for HBP, but their numbers remain uncontrolled. In all these scenarios, there are big consequences.

The reality is that blockages and blood clots that result from HBP keep blood from nourishing vital organs. The consequences can be stroke, vision loss, erectile dysfunction, heart attack, kidney failure and/or heart failure.

You have the power, too

We have the power to prevent damage from HBP by becoming aware of the condition and taking action. The first step is knowing your numbers by measuring your BP and understanding what those numbers mean to your health. The next step is taking action to lower numbers that are too high. Small gains in hypertension treatment can lead to big benefits. For example, a 10-percent improvement in hypertension control could prevent about 14,000 deaths every year.

While the AHA recommends treatment in the form of medications if BP is 140/90 or higher, many people with BP between 120/80 mmHg and 140/90 mmHg can potentially lower their numbers with lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise, decreasing salt intake and not smoking.

Studies show that people with normal BP at age 50 are expected to live five years longer than people with HBP. Five years! Why is the treatment of HBP to goal important? A longer, better life is why.


Know the signs for stroke and be ready to take action.

F Face Drooping

A Arm Weakness

S Speech Difficulty

T Time to call 911


Willie E. Lawrence Jr., MD, FAHA is Chief of Cardiology and Director of the Living Well program at Research Medical Center, practicing in an underserved urban area of Kansas City, MO. Dr. Lawrence graduated with his medical degree from Harvard Medical School and completed his internship and residency at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and cardiology fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In 2011, the American Heart Association named Dr. Lawrence its national Physician of the Year.